Esther 3

Chapter three introduces the story’s villain, Haman, who was from the nation of Agag, part of the Persian Empire (Esther 3:1). For a reason never given, Ahasuerus/Xerxes had promoted Haman to the position of Grand Vizier, second in the kingdom. This took place about four years after chapter two (compare Esther 2:16 and Esther 3:7). Haman’s new position required the honor and respect of the people, but Mordecai refused (Esther 3:2-3). The writer seems to link it to his Jewish ancestry without further explanation, but if he was not a particularly religious Jew, one wonders why Mordecai would not bow in respect to Haman, and he was even asked that question (Esther 3:4-5).

One reason that is worth exploring, but can only be speculated, comes from clues sprinkled throughout the story that Jews would find significant. Consider these parallels. Mordecai was the great-grandson of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5). Six hundred years earlier, King Saul was the son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1). Saul failed to destroy the Amalekites at God’s command, instead sparing the king, whose name was Agag (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 7-9). Mordecai opposed a man from the nation of Agag. It is apparent from Haman’s response to Mordecai’s insult that he already harbored a hatred for the Jewish people at large, not just Mordecai (Esther 3:5-6, 10). Eradicating an entire ethnicity for the actions of one man hints at a deeper issue.

The rest of the chapter outlines Haman’s plan for this execution of all Jews within the borders of Persia (which extended from India to Ethiopia at this time, including the land of Israel; see Esther 1:1). Without giving any detail, he asked the king if he could wipe out “a particular people” throughout the kingdom (Esther 3:8-11). His reasoning was that, because they followed different laws, it was “not appropriate for the king to provide a haven for them.” To sweeten the deal, Haman promised to pay back the royal treasury from his own pocket for the cost of using the king’s army for this purpose. The “10,000 talents” would be close to $200 million dollars in today’s money, a generous amount even for a mission that large. The plan worked, and the king agreed, going so far as to tell Haman, “Keep your money; I’ll pay for it.”

By the casting of lots (called a pur in Akkadian) Haman had determined that the day of this genocide would be eleven months later (Esther 3:8). With the king’s approval and signature stamp, Haman wrote the decree that exactly eleven months from that date, every Jew in the empire was to die, regardless of age or gender (Esther 3:12-15). With a flair for the dramatic (and possibly an evil laugh), he wrote “that they should destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews” in one day. It was going to be a massacre. The final verse shows the intensity of the evil in Haman and the total apathy in the king: “The edict was issued in Susa the citadel. While the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in an uproar!”

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